This 19th book in the series featuring British Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley again focuses on Lynley’s partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers.
The boss of Lynley and Havers, Superintendent Isabelle Ardery, now is holding a “sword of Damocles” over the head of Barbara Havers. Ostensibly, Havers is too unconventional for Ardery and too apt to flaunt the rules to get a result. It seems more likely, however (to me, anyway) – given Ardery’s unprofessional and vindictive nature – that Ardery is projecting her own self-hatred and resentment of restrictions onto Havers. In any event, Ardery insisted Havers sign a transfer request to an out-of-the-way post in northern England, which Ardery will effectuate the moment she sees Ardery getting out of line. Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, even more patient and generous-hearted than in the past, asks Ardery to give Havers a chance solving a new case, and Ardery agrees only if Havers is accompanied every moment by Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata, and if Lynley files a report on their activities and progress every single day.
Havers appreciates Lynley’s faith in her; her recent experience in the force has been enervating:
“Jaw clenching, lip biting, teeth grinding, fingernails digging, and tongue holding were all taking their toll, and Barbara wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold on to this new twist in her personality without the top of her head erupting.”
The case is a poisoning in Cambridge, and involves a group of very unsavory characters, whose pathological neediness has been murdering each other’s spirits; now one of them has engaged in bodily murder as well. The fact that all of them are so awful keeps the reader from figuring out which one actually committed the crime.
In investigating the case, both Havers and Lynley are struck by all the misery they uncover:
“Bloody Christ [Barbara thinks], there was so much sodding pain in the world. How did anyone manage to live to old age?”
Lynley too is reminded of the awful burden of losing someone to violence and feeling “the weight of responsibility and the equal weight of guilt to be left among the living.” Unlike Barbara though, he is desperate to have a new relationship that will blot out the pain of what he lost. Barbara hasn’t taken that road, but Ardery’s secretary, Dee Harriman, is determined to help Barbara find happiness as well.
Discussion: Although George’s books are not for those who like edge-of-their-seat page turners, they have a certain British charm and a lot of atmosphere-building. But it is generally a major commitment of time to read one of her books, and this one, like her others, could well have used some editing.
The characters of this ongoing series seem to be getting more rigid in their roles. Ardery is increasingly off the rails, and Lynley more saintly than seems reasonable. Only Barbara is still, thankfully, more or less normal. On the other hand, none of the temporary characters germane to the plot are anywhere close to normal, or at least, one hopes that is the case.
Evaluation: I think fans of the Inspector Lynley series will be pleased with this latest installment, although there is a considerable “ick” factor, at least with the people involved in the criminal aspects of the story. Then again, it’s hard to avoid that in a murder story I suppose, except maybe with “cozy” mysteries.
Hardback published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2015
A Few Notes on the Audio Production:
Note: I both read the book in hard copy and and listened to it on CD, because I was eager to hear how one narrator would manage all the different voices and accents in the book. John Lee definitely has good intonation and pacing, and the listener is usually able to tell when one character stops speaking and another starts. The narrator does female voices okay, although I personally did not like the voice he gave to Isabel Ardery. On the other hand, I thought his Barbara Havers was excellent.
My only other quibble was that I find it hard to believe a man of Lynley’s background and education would mispronounce “forte” as the narrator does.
Audio version published unabridged on 18 CDs (21 1/2 listening hours) by Penguin Audio, a division of Penguin Random House, 2015
Series Listing from the first to most current “Inspector Lynley” books as of 2015:
A Great Deliverance (1988)
Payment In Blood (1989)
Well-Schooled In Murder (1990)
A Suitable Vengeance (1991)
For the Sake of Elena (1992)
Missing Joseph (1992)
Playing for the Ashes (1993)
In the Presence of the Enemy (1996)
Deception on His Mind (1997)
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (1999)
A Traitor to Memory (2001)
A Place of Hiding (2003)
With No One As Witness (2005)
What Came Before He Shot Her (2006)
Careless In Red (2008)
This Body of Death (2010)
Believing the Lie (2012)
Just One Evil Act (2013)
A Banquet of Consequences (2015)